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Louisiana House Passes Bill Increasing Immunity for Police Officers

Updated: Feb 26

The Louisiana House of Representatives has approved a bill that could significantly limit the ability to sue police officers for misconduct, injuries, or violations of civil rights. Sponsored by Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairrieville, House Bill 2 passed with a 73-31 vote along party lines and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Bacala's bill seeks to expand qualified immunity protections for Louisiana law enforcement, covering various categories of officers including town marshals, constables, sheriffs' deputies, and peace officers. Qualified immunity, a legal doctrine shielding public employees from civil liability, would make it more challenging to hold officers accountable for deaths or damages that occur during their duties.

While qualified immunity can extend to other government officials, it is most commonly associated with police officers who use it as a defense against wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits.

During House floor debate, Bacala argued that the legislation would help reduce frivolous lawsuits against law enforcement and potentially aid in officer recruitment, noting that some groups enjoy filing such suits to harass officers.

The bill alters existing exceptions to qualified immunity, removing negligence as a defense and requiring plaintiffs to prove criminal, fraudulent, or intentional misconduct by officers. Additionally, it would bar lawsuits if the plaintiff was convicted of any crime for which the officer arrested them.

Critics, including House Democrats like Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, contend that the bill would grant police officers excessive immunity, potentially enabling misconduct. Jordan highlighted cases like the 2019 killing of Ronald Greene by Louisiana State Police officers as examples of the dangers of such legislation.

Bacala countered such claims, asserting that the bill does not provide blanket immunity and excludes intentional misconduct from its protections.

The proposed legislation would not impact claims filed in federal court, where most police brutality lawsuits are adjudicated, Bacala added. It also exempts off-duty officers but shields them during off-hours security details.

In a related development, the Senate approved Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, extending qualified immunity to gun owners with concealed carry permits. Miguez argues that the bill would encourage responsible gun ownership and protect individuals from baseless lawsuits.

Both bills align with Gov. Jeff Landry's agenda to reduce crime, although critics question their efficacy and potential consequences. The debate surrounding these measures reflects ongoing tensions over police accountability, public safety, and individual rights in Louisiana.

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